Intermountain to merge with Colorado-based hospital system

An earlier planned merger with a different system fell through.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

Utah’s largest hospital system, Intermountain Healthcare, is planning to merge with Colorado-based, Catholic-affiliated SCL Health, leaders of the two companies announced Thursday.

The two systems have “complimentary” assets and will operate health care facilities from Nevada to Kansas, Intermountain CEO Dr. Marc Harrison said in a news conference. Harrison will be president of the merged company, which will be headquartered in Salt Lake City. A regional office will occupy SCL’s headquarters in Broomfield, Colo.

Intermountain, with 25 hospitals and 225 clinics, is the larger of the two systems, and SCL will take on its name — though its eight hospitals and 160 clinics will retain their own names, and their Catholic ties, said Lydia Jumonville, CEO of SCL. Intermountain was created as a secular entity in 1975 when it took on health care facilities owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Intermountain has just embraced us continuing to maintain our Catholicity,” Jumonville said. “We will follow all of the Catholic directives and [Ethical and Religious Directives], and all of the values of the Catholic hospitals will be there.”

The Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prevent Catholic hospitals from providing contraceptives, performing surgeries intended to prevent or end pregnancy, or conducting in vitro fertilization. While Jumonville stressed that SCL hospitals will continue to follow Catholic directives, neither she nor Harrison indicated those directives would be adopted at Intermountain facilities.

Meanwhile, there is no plan yet as to the role SelectHealth — Intermountain’s health insurance — will play in the merger, Harrison said. The moderator of Thursday’s digital news conference did not relay a question from The Tribune as to whether or how SCL’s religious health care directives could impact coverage of family planning services, should SelectHealth plans be offered through SCL entities.

The combined system will operate 33 hospitals and 385 clinics, with more than 58,000 employees. Intermountain’s facilities are in Utah, Idaho and Nevada, while SCL’s are in Colorado, Montana and Kansas.

“We do believe that the contiguous nature offers real opportunity to the region,” Harrison said.

Patients and employees will be unlikely to notice significant changes at individual facilities, Jumonville said, though she noted that SCL’s telehealth and digital options may benefit from the merger. Both systems aim to make health care affordable and accessible, including in rural areas, the two leaders said.

“Individually and collectively, we have both avoided some of the rural health care deserts” that have formed in other parts of of the country, Harrison said.

About a year ago, Intermountain announced plans to merge with Sanford Health, which operates hospitals in the Dakotas. But Sanford suspended those plans in December, shortly after its CEO stepped down following criticism of remarks he made that downplayed the transmissibility of COVID-19.

That attempt to merge with Sanford, however, signaled Intermountain’s wish to expand farther outside of Utah, Jumonville said, and prompted subsequent talks with SCL.

Harrison estimated the hospital systems would generate about $14 billion in annual revenue following the merger.

Both systems are coming to the deal from positions of financial and operational strength, he said. With no geographical overlap in their services and other factors, it could be seen as a “model merger,” he added.

It is not being pursued to cut costs or staff, Jumonville said, and only a “handful” of jobs may require relocation, Harrison added.

They expect to sign a definitive agreement by the end of 2021 and close the deal early in 2022, with a two-year integration process to follow, Harrison and Jumonville said.